What is an influencer?
A major role of the marketing function is to get our content to “move” through an audience. Content can take many forms. It might be a blog post, but it could also be an idea, and ad, or even the product itself (Glossier ships all of its skin care products in packaging that is Instagram ready!).
The role of an influencer then, is to help you move your content. It’s that simple. The economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero. So your job is to get it to move through a relevant audience.
Sure, a lot of people will tell you that an influencer has to change a behaviour or a mindset, get people to buy something, yada yada. But that gets complicated … trying to measure how you’ve changed behaviour? Not easy.
My view is that if your content is getting shared more than the competition, you’re playing a winning hand. Having a disproportionate share of the conversation in your industry is a good thing and certainly a leading indicator to sales.
So let’s cut through the jargon. You are hiring an influencer to move content through a highly relevant audience.
So maybe asking about the size of their audience is the wrong question to start with.
The types of influencers
You can slice and dice influencer designations many ways (I’ve seen as many as 10) but again, to keep it simple, let’s focus on these:
Celebrities – Kim Kardashian. Hiring a celebrity is beneficial for a brand when you’re trying to quickly establish an image and buy access to a celebrity’s fanbase. They usually have low brand engagement but massive reach. They can really move content but this is extremely expensive and risky in an era of celebrity Twitter meltdowns!
Macro influencers – We live in an empowering time when anyone can establish their own power and following on the web by publishing content on blogs, videos, podcasts, and visual images. Because of the vast reach of these trusted stars (100,000+ followers), brands are eager to pay them for access to their audiences. This may be a legitimate strategy if you need an immediate boost in brand awareness. However, these content creators are unlikely to commit to a brand without compensation and may even turn on a brand if a better deal comes along. Their primary commitment is usually to an audience, not necessarily a product or idea.
Professional – This group might have 20,000 to 100,000 followers and would include journalists, business leaders, authors, and subject matter experts. You will find them speaking at conferences because they have very high authority. They love engaging with a brand if it means access to people and information that enhances their expertise.
Micro-influencers – This group is getting a lot of attention from brands because they have a large, trusting audience (1,000 – 20,000 followers) and they can’t get enough of your product. They are extremely relevant to brand conversations and are proud and happy to be associated with you. They occasionally might require some compensation for expenses but love getting your products and gear to show to their friends.
Brand advocates – These everyday folks (less than 1,000 followers) do not think of themselves as influencers. They just love to share content about their daily lives and make you part of it if they are fans. They have a small network but may be your best and most passionate customers.
So you see, before you “hire” an influencer, you have to think about the type of influencer out there who might best connect with your audience, and perhaps you won’t have to hire them at all!
Where do you show up?
Another important consideration is is where you want the content to flow.
For example, if you’re trying to reach hard-core gamers, you don’t want an influencer who is big on Pinterest. If you’re trying to reach millionaires, you can probably skip Twitter.
So as we’re considering a strategy, we also have to think about what kind of content, channel, and engagement levels are we looking for.
By the way, engagement is normally a lousy metric for an influencer. Seth Godin is a massive influencer. He never really engages on social media. But I’d love for him to mention my new book because he’s a trusted expert with a relevant audience. The bigger the influencer, the less they engage. Just a matter of time management.
They’re an employee right?
Here’s a major issue most companies miss with influencers. Unless you’re working with Kim Kardashian (like me, but of course you already knew that) one mention on Instagram or Twitter isn’t going to do much for your product. It takes repetition. Which means you need that person to post content for you repeatedly.
Which means you need a long-term relationship, not a hired gun.
Example: For many years, gShift sponsored our podcast. Week after week Tom Webster and I talked about this company. At a trade show, people were coming up to their booth and telling them they heard about gShift from our podcast. That sort of awareness does not happen with one mention.
So if you’re in a long-term relationship with an influencer, chances are they will become more well-known for your brand than any of your employees. They become the face of your brand.
If you’re hiring somebody with that kind of impact, would you rely only on a software search? No way.
When you employ an influencer, it should be with the same sort of vetting process you would use for a new employee and yes, that might include character references!
Another reason to think about long-term relationships with an influencer is that this is one of the few strategies left that can actually provide a competitive advantage.
There are only so many influencers to go around. And if they are aligned with you, they won’t align with a competitor.
Something to think about.
To hire or not to hire an influencer?
Sometimes you need to hire a powerful authority to be an “influencer” because you need quick access to their relevant audience. But what I’d like to suggest is that a more effective approach (and this is probably the case most of the time) you don’t need to hire anybody at all. You just need to help them.
I’ll use myself as an example. My source of influence with you is that I bring you forward-thinking ideas about marketing. If a friend of mine brings me a really cool new idea, I will gladly share it with my audience because that’s what I love to do!
So how does somebody get me to “move” their content?
- Information comes from a trusted friend — nobody is asking me to “sell” something!
- Information is relevant to me and my audience
- Ideas are really new and exciting
It’s just that simple. To most effectively do influencer marketing, 1) make friends, 2) create exceptional and relevant ideas, and 3) share it freely (without expectations).
Influencer or advertiser?
I hope I have you thinking a bit of a different way on influencer marketing today.
A person recently asked me to be an influencer for their company. They were going to pay me and expected me to write blog posts about them, etc. THAT IS NOT INFLUENCER MARKETING. THAT IS ADVERTISING.
This strategy would require that I disclose in all the content that I was paid to promote this company (that’s the law). This sends a message to my audience that I’m selling out. My blog has become another ad platform and I lose my audience. No audience, no influence. Your trust in me is over.
Here is a truth a lot of businesses seem to be missing. If you’re paying your influencer (and following the laws about disclosure) you’re not “influencing,” you’re advertising. And people generally hate advertising. So … maybe don’t do that.
One of the things I emphasize as much as I can is that there is no one-size-fits-all marketing advice for anything. It’s possible that you could pay a mommy blogger to write about your diaper service and the world will change forever for you. But I doubt that.Influencer marketing is still evolving and I do see much more sophisticated, ethical, and measurable strategies being used today. I’m bullish about influencer marketing. It’s just beginning.